Dr. Silas from the Chamberlin PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources presented his lecture on the history and culture of Pennsylvania’s hiking trails at 4:10 p.m in the Steps building, room 101.
The disconnect between walking, mountain biking, and multi-use trails was another topic of interest from an audience member.
“Part of the reason has to do with funding sources,” said Dr. Chamberlin. Hiking trails and mountain biking trails don’t get funding, he said, because funders take into account different factors, such as the potential economic impact.
Another professor asked about the involvement of Game Commissions in trails and whether they cooperated with the hiking clubs. Dr. Chamberlin said that they shared similar end goals, but that tended to only work together locally. “They had to pick their battles,” he said, referring to possible disagreements between the two groups.
Most sections of the Appalachian Trail are protected by federal laws, Dr. Chamberlin said.
Dr. Chamberlin said that the state became really involved in trails when Pennsylvania received federal funds in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“How many traditional paths created by the hiking clubs were taken over by the state?” asked one professor.
“Hiking culture will continue to flourish,” he said, ending the lecture and commencing the Q&A session.
He said that there is a clear value to hiking, saying that there are many health costs that can be saved due to hiking.
“In the Lehigh Valley, we have a great network of trails,” said Dr. Chamberlin, “and many more will be built in the coming years.”
“There was a general shift in American culture to reject voluntary associations and collective groups of any type,” said Dr. Chamberlin. “So, although many millions are starting to hike, many of them aren’t joining hiking clubs. They were losing dominance over the hiking community, since many hikers were hiking alone.”
“All of these developments are developing to a rapid growth and interest in hiking,” said Dr. Chamberlin. Many Americans hiked for the first time during the decades following the war, increasing hiking club membership, he said.
However, after the war, there was a boom in hiking due to tools, technology and resources developed during the war being utilized for civilian purposes.
By World War II, most of the leadership of clubs were recruited for the war, so the clubs became dormant or closed, said Dr. Chamberlin.
During 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on the Appalachian Trail using lots of labor and materials to rebuild the trails, Dr. Chamberlin said. However, the paths they built resembled manufactured roads instead of the natural image hikers envisioned, so hiking clubs then also hired The National Youth Administration for other sections of the trail, such as the Horse Shoe Trail.
“Earl Shaffer changed the trajectory of the Appalachian Trail in American culture,” said Dr. Chamberlin, because he re-framed the conception of the trail as a connected trail that hikers should walk from start to finish, instead multiple, separate trails.
Earl Shaffer hiked the combined trail, now the Appalachian Trail, saying, “Why not walk the army out of my system, both mentally and physically, take pictures and notes along the way, make a regular expedition of it?”
Since these trails were being blazed during the early 1930s, the hiking clubs were able to hire laborers who were out of work due to the Great Depression. So, the trails were blazed by a combination of volunteers and paid workers, he said.
Next, came the building of the Appalachian Trail, which they accomplished by connecting existing trails and blazing new ones.
Combined, these three justifications helped popularize hiking, he said. “It really forges a cohesive ideology of hiking that empowers hikers to go out and work on projects that are more ambitious than just organizing hikes,” he said.
3) Hiking as a form of patriotism. Two examples he said they referenced was President Roosevelt’s lifestyle as well as World War II. Dr. Chamberlin said, “They had to justify why they were having fun during a period of sacrifice.” He said that they claimed by staying physically healthy, they were more prepared for the war.
2) The connection between health and hiking. He said that they argued that it was healthy on two levels, both for the body and mind. “By escaping crowded cities and concerns, you’re improving your mental health as well,” Dr. Chamberlin said they claimed.
1) Hiking as religious experience, which Dr. Chamberlin said was important to include, because
most hiking clubs met on Sundays, which meant they were competing with
“They came up with elaborate justifications for hiking,” Dr. Chamberlin said.
The justifications revolved around three key ideas, which he said were:
From that point on, he said, many local populations created their own active hiking clubs.
They created the Darlington Trail, which Dr. Chamberlin said set a precedent for all the trails that followed it by showing that they could work together to form and maintain a hiking tail.
He said that Shoemaker thought of the Alpine Club “as a way to raise awareness of environmental destruction.”
Dr. Chamberlin shared the quote by Henry W. Shoemaker, who said: “Statesmen, bankers, and publishers [could] find surcease of business cares amid the sylvan slopes of the monarchs of our Highlands.”
The Appalachian Mountain Club was founded in 1876 and the Sierrra Club in 1892.
“It should come as no surprise, then, that the first hiking clubs were founded in this time,” he said. The founding members of many of these clubs were mainly people from the middle class, such as college professors.
He said that new transportation technology transformed Philadelphia and created a culture that was more open to hiking. Since people did not need to walk as much themselves as part of their daily work schedule, they sought physical activity during their leisure time.
Dr. Chamberlin said that Pennsylvanian trails have a rich history that many hikers appreciate, which he thinks Bryson’s quote overlooks.
He shared Bill Bryson’s quote, which he said he finds problematic: “I never met a hiker with a good word to say about the trail in Pennsylvania.”
The lecture is now beginning. Dr. Chamberlain said that he wants to begin by sharing quotes from Bill Bryson, author of the book, A Walk in the Woods.
Audience members could also take fliers and magnets with information about the trails. More information is also available online at their website, Ironton Rail Trail.
Snacks and refreshments are provided for the audience while they mingle and wait for the lecture to commence.
Dr. Silas from the Chamberlin PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources will begin his lecture on the history and culture of Pennsylvania’s hiking trails at 4:10 p.m in the Steps building, room 101.